By Jacalyn Beales
"The iconic species of Africa are sure to become ghosts, destined for a future of purgatorial oblivion."
What does it mean when several regions come together in a united front against wildlife crime?
Not to be mistaken for a Stallone flick, COBRA III is a multi-regional law enforcement operation initiated by several agencies, comprised of the South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network (SA-WEN), ASEAN-WEN, Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), in addition to China, South Africa and the USA.
It’s purpose? Targeting the illegal wildlife trade of endangered species.
On September 15th, 2015, several agencies, government organizations and task forces concluded a three-day workshop in Tanzania, wherein reviews of the operation were analyzed and discussed; since 2013, three successful COBRA operations have been carried out. Such efforts have led to the recovery of mass amounts of wildlife contraband, composed mostly of African wildlife parts and traditional Asian medicine manufactured from animal bones. But the operation has yet to truly put an end to the illegal trade and trafficking of Africa's iconic wildlife.
Regulatory bodies such as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) monitor the purchase and sale of wildlife across borders, but their role does not stipulate physically stepping in to stop trafficking or trade. The enforcement of CITES regulations, for instance, falls to the shoulders of individual countries, many of which are victims of unscrupulous governments; thus, expensive operations like COBRA are vital, not only for wildlife but for conservation efforts. And yet, these operations receive funding from those same governments that benefit from illegal wildlife trade in some shape or form, leading many to question the merit of units like COBRA. Adelhelm Meru, Tanzania's Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources & Tourism, said earlier in September that the country would not stop trophy hunting, a practice which often leads to illegal trafficking; he echoed his sentiment again after the COBRA meeting in Tanzania on September 15th. It is little wonder as to why operations like COBRA have slim chances at long-term success.
(Simultaneously, the SRG (EU Wildlife Trade Regulation Scientific Review Group) also met on September 15th to discuss matters of wildlife trade and trophies, issues which units like COBRA are specifically created to deal with. This particular meeting was held to discuss the ban on lion hunting trophy imports from Tanzania, Zambia & Mozambique).
Such corruption not only harms Africa's wildlife but also hinders the success of anti-trafficking unites like COBRA. Inflated profits from wildlife trafficking, hunting and other exploitative industries are advantageous to select governments; yet, we can never truly know how far such benefit reaches. The Ebola crisis ushered in awareness of the general mistrust of Africa’s politicians and governments; in 2012, Forbes released a list of the five worst leaders in Africa, and all one has to do is a simple Google search to discover the vast research done on wildlife trade and trafficking. As wildlife crime is continuously exposed, more awareness is raised about these issues, making it difficult for people worldwide to deny or ignore the crisis. Africa's wildlife is stuck in a perpetual free-fall, knowing only brief refuge when organizations and individuals step in to offer support and sanctuary to the few lucky enough to receive it.
With so many grey areas, how can Africa’s wildlife hope to truly benefit from operations like COBRA III? And, can such operations be effective if their very existence is in part due to funding from corrupt governments? Where does the cyclical process end? The iconic species of Africa are sure to become ghosts, destined for a future of purgatorial oblivion unless something is done to combat the brutal exploitation of the its wildlife.